MLB honors 2023 Scouts of the Year, more

December 5th, 2023

Good scouting is the bedrock of any successful organization. Yet another reminder will come this week at the Winter Meetings when the Scout of the Year program honors four longtime evaluators as well as an administrator -- all of whom contributed significantly to World Series clubs.

This year's domestic winners are Bobby Heck (Rays, East Coast), Chuck LaMar (Padres, Midwest) and Marti Wolever (Cubs, West Coast). Rolando Fernandez (Rockies) is the international scout of the year, while Linda Smith (retired from the Royals in 2017) is recognized as a distinguished woman in baseball. The 39th annual Scout of the Year Awards reception will be held at the Opryland Hotel in Nashville, Tenn., on Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. CT.

Heck helped build the nucleus of the Astros' 2017 World Series championship team and 2019 pennant-winners, and he also played a role in the Rays' 2020 World Series run. LaMar and Smith were part of the Braves' sustained success in the 1990s, which included a '95 title. LaMar helped build the Rays before they won a pennant in 2008 and was part of World Series clubs with the Phillies and Padres, while Smith also worked with the Royals for four trips to the Series and two championships in 1985 and 2015.

Wolever helped draft many of the Phillies who went to back-to-back World Series in 2008 and '09, winning it all in their first appearance. Fernandez's international signings were crucial to the Rockies' lone Fall Classic appearance in 2007.

Bobby Heck, Rays (East)
Heck, 57, caught for two seasons as a non-drafted free agent in the Athletics system and was coaching at Broward (Fla.) CC while working toward a master's degree when then-Brewers crosschecker Eddy Durkin asked him to be an associate scout in 1992. That led to a full-time job as a Rangers area scout (1995-99) and then to gigs as a Brewers Eastern crosschecker (2000-07), Astros scouting director (2008-12) and Rays special assignment scout (2012-15) and special assistant to the GM (2015 to date).

While with Houston, Heck oversaw five Drafts that produced 25 big leaguers, including first-rounders Jason Castro, George Springer and Carlos Correa, supplemental first-rounder Lance McCullers Jr. and late-rounders Enrique Hernández, Dallas Keuchel and J.D. Martinez.

"The things you miss from playing are the competing and fellowship," Heck said. "I didn't realize I could get that from scouting. To be able to find players and sign players and help some guys to college, it didn't take long for that hook to get sunk in my belly."

Chuck LaMar, Padres (Midwest)
LaMar, 67, played college baseball at Texas Christian before getting into coaching. He was running the program at Mary Hardin-Baylor (Texas) in 1985 when Reds area scout Fred Uhlman Sr. left to become Orioles scouting director and recommended LaMar as his replacement.

LaMar moved to the front office four years later, becoming farm director for the Padres (1989-90) and then farm and scouting director (1991-93) and then assistant GM (1994-95) for the Braves. His best picks while running Drafts for Atlanta were Jason Schmidt, Kevin Millwood, Jermaine Dye -- all drafted in the eighth round or later. He became the first GM in Rays history (1995-2005), then later crosschecked for the Nationals (2006-07) before serving as pro scouting director (2007-08) and assistant GM (2008-11) for the Phillies and as a special assistant with the Blue Jays (2011-18) and the Padres (2018 to date).

"Tony Robello was my mentor when I started with the Reds, and he was the first recipient of the Midwest Scout of the Year award in 1985," LaMar said. "He was a legend in this game, signing people from Don Larsen to Johnny Bench. For me to start my professional career with him and then win this award knowing he was the first recipient, it's just an honor.

"I counted and I've worked with 31 winners of this award, including Linda and Marti. I'm not sure anyone has ever won this award through the work and dedication of others as I did."

Marti Wolever, Cubs (West)
Wolever, 66, signed with the Reds as an 11th-round pick out of an Iowa high school in 1975 before spending two years in the Minors as an outfielder. He coached in high school and college and was an assistant at Kansas State before Tigers scouting director George Bradley hired him as an area scout in December 1983.

Wolever moved on to the Yankees in the same position in November 1988, became a Midwest crosschecker with the White Sox two years later and joined the Phillies for a 22-year run as a national crosschecker (1992-2001), scouting director (2002-14) and assistant GM (2013-14). Wolever was heavily involved in the scouting of Hall of Famer Scott Rolen and several key members of the 2008 championship club as a crosschecker, then landed 70 Major Leaguers in 13 Drafts as a director.

Wolever's first pick as a director was 2002 first-rounder Cole Hamels, a four-time All-Star who was both National League Championship Series and World Series MVP in 2008. Hamels came with considerable risk because he had broken the humerus bone in his pitching arm earlier in his high school career, but Wolever trusted his scouts and his own evaluation.

"It's about your eyes and your innate ability to take a look and listen to what your scouts have got to say," said Wolever, who since has worked as a Western crosschecker with the Tigers (2015-18), scouting advisor with the Marlins (2018-21) and national crosschecker with the Cubs (2021 to date). "Darrell Conner was our area scout a the time and I probably saw Cole pitch three different times. And each time I went, I liked him even more.

"Just the command of the changeup was incredible. Even in high school, he had a decent breaking ball that needed work and his fastball was a plus. And he was very composed on the mound, which he exemplified throughout his career. So frankly, it wasn't really a difficult decision."

Rolando Fernandez, Rockies (International)
Fernandez, 56, spent three seasons as an outfielder in the Cubs system after turning pro as a 45th-rounder out of Northwestern State in 1990. Rockies farm director Dick Balderson hired him as a Minor League hitting coach during the franchise's first year of operation in 1993 and he has worked there ever since

Fernandez became the roving Latin American coordinator in 1998, then ascended to director of Latin American operations in 2002, director of international operations in 2008 and vice president for international scouting and player development in 2015. He has been involved with the signings of 29 big leaguers, including Ubaldo Jiménez and Antonio Senzatela, as well as current Top 100 Prospects Adael Amador and Yanquiel Fernandez.

"When they asked me to take over international scouting, it kind of caught me by surprise because it wasn't something I was pursuing," Fernandez said. "But I love baseball and knew I would enjoy it. In the Latin market, you can sign a player every day, and that's exciting.

"When you see them achieve their potential and fulfill their dreams, you feel like you're a part of that. You sign them so young and the relationships are so close, that when their careers are over you still have that relationship. I treat them like they're my own kids. I have a lot of pride in that."

Linda Smith, Royals
Smith entered baseball as a secretary in the Royals public-relations department in 1972. She eventually rose to an administrative role in Kansas City's scouting department before taking a similar job with the Braves in '92. She left to become a Rangers assistant to the scouting director in '97 before returning to Atlanta in '98 and going back home to the Royals in 2001, retiring as manager of scouting operations in '17.

“I have been so blessed in my working life in baseball,” Smith told upon her induction into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame in 2022. “I have worked with some amazing people. Starting with way back in the beginning with [former Royals and Braves GM] John Schuerholz when he was just getting started, [former Royals GMs] Allard Baird and Dayton Moore. I’ve been so lucky to work with so many amazing people like [former Royals scouting director] Art Stewart, who I worked with for a very long time.

"I considered myself extremely blessed and fortunate to work with those people. They would be the only reason this is happening just because they made learning about baseball interesting and fun. It became a passion.”